Tender Is the Night

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Tender Is the Night

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Author Biography
Plot Summary
Historical Context
Critical Overview
Further Reading


Published in 1934 by New York-based publisher Charles Scribner's Sons, Tender Is the Night is one of F. Scott Fitzgerald's last works. Although the novel was generally well received and has come to be regarded as one of Fitzgerald's most important works, it was less popular at its publication than his previous novels and was considered a commercial failure. More autobiographical than his other works, Tender Is the Night tells the story of American psychologist Dick Diver and his wife, the wealthy but psychologically unstable Nicole. Set largely in the small French coastal town of Tarmes between the years 1925 and 1935, the book portrays a cast of characters typical of Fitzgerald's fictional universe: wealthy, idle, sophisticated, and, in many ways, "troubled."

Tender Is the Night was written in a period of Fitzgerald's life when his wife, Zelda, was experiencing severe psychological problems, not unlike those of Nicole Diver. In the years following the book's publication, Fitzgerald's output diminished considerably due largely to his alcoholism. In 1940, with Zelda institutionalized, he died alone of a heart attack in Los Angeles, a death largely viewed in literary circles as a pitiful conclusion to what was once a promising life.

Like many of Fitzgerald's other books, Tender Is the Night focuses on the themes of wealth and the corruption it brings to people's lives. Set in Europe during the interwar years, the book also addresses themes particular to European history and politics, such as the effect wealthy Americans had on Europe and the ascent of capitalism on the continent. Largely drawn on his own experiences with the mental health industry, Tender Is the Night also addresses issues of mental illness and psychiatry. Finally, with a cast of female characters who are largely portrayed as controlling, manipulative, and ultimately stifling to Diver's intellectual development, Fitzgerald may be remarking unfavorably on the role that women, particularly Zelda, had in his own life and career.

Author Biography

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, or F. Scott Fitzgerald, is considered one of the most important American writers of the twentieth century, particularly of the 1920s era known as the "Jazz Age." The debauchery of his characters' lives and their obsession with material wealth echoed the indulgent and tumultuous life he led with his wife, Zelda, and their group of expatriate friends.

Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 24, 1896, to Edward Fitzgerald and Mary McQuillan Fitzgerald, both of whom were middle-class Catholics. He attended various private schools and entered Princeton in 1913, where he neglected his studies and concentrated on extracurricular writing for various literary journals and theatrical groups.

After being put on academic probation in 1917, Fitzgerald left Princeton to join the army. In 1918, he was stationed in Montgomery, Alabama, where he met and fell in love with Zelda Sayre, daughter of a state supreme court judge and one of the most celebrated debutantes of the town, notorious for her fiery spirit and unpredictable escapades. The couple wed in 1920, the same year that his first novel, This Side of Paradise, was published by Charles Scribner's Sons to great financial success.

The Fitzgeralds moved to New York City, where Scott worked as a writer for various magazines, most notably the Saturday Evening Post. They quickly became known for their wild, indulgent lifestyle, spending money faster than they earned it in order to keep up the extravagance they quickly came to enjoy.

Fitzgerald completed his second novel, The Beautiful and the Damned, in 1921. Later that year their only daughter, Frances Scott, was born. After her birth, the family would constantly be on the move between various cities in the States and Europe.

Fitzgerald completed perhaps his most popular work, The Great Gatsby, in 1925, but his reputation for drinking and partying kept the literary establishment from taking his novel writing seriously. The couple's extravagant lifestyle, in both the United States and in Europe, also took its toll. He constantly interrupted his novels for the less serious but more financially rewarding popular short stories. Increasing tension with Zelda also affected his writing as well as their marriage. Quarrels were brought about by Fitzgerald's excessive drinking and were exacerbated by Zelda's penchant for theatrics and growing mental instability. Zelda had her first mental breakdown in 1930 and would be in and out of mental hospitals for the rest of her life.

Tender Is the Night, though today considered one of his most accomplished works, took several years to complete and was published in 1934 to what Fitzgerald considered commercial failure. Fitzgerald soon thereafter lapsed into a depression of drunkenness and increasing debt. In 1937, he moved to Hollywood, California, where he took a lucrative job as a scriptwriter. However, his skills in screen-writing proved inadequate. He died in Hollywood from a sudden heart attack on December 21, 1940. His uncompleted novel, The Last Tycoon, was published in 1941. Zelda was killed eight years later in a hospital fire.

Although at the time of his death Fitzgerald was not considered a major literary figure, a renewed interest in his work developed in the 1950s, which propelled him into a place among the most important American writers, a place he retains to the early 2000s.

Plot Summary

Book 1

Tender Is the Night opens in 1925 at the Gausse's Hotel in the French coastal town of Tarmes. Although narrated in the third person, the early chapters of the novel are told through the eyes of the seventeen-year-old actress Rosemary Hoyt. While visiting Tarmes with her mother, Mrs. Elsie Speers, she meets several Americans who are vacationing at the resort, including Dick Diver, a married man twice her age. She immediately falls in love with him and proclaims that love to her mother, who actively encourages her daughter to pursue Diver. Thus the stage is set for the affair that ultimately fuels the novel's tension.

Later that evening, Rosemary is invited to a party at the Divers.' During the party, Mrs. McKisco becomes privy to a scene in the bathroom between Dick and Nicole that hints at some kind of serious problem. After the party, a discussion between Albert McKisco and Tommy Barban about that incident turns ugly, with Barban defending the honor of the Divers, and the two men agree to a duel. Although the men do not harm one another, the duel highlights the passions they have for the Divers and the couple's status with their friends.

Rosemary joins the group as they venture to Paris the next day. While in Paris, Rosemary confesses her love to Dick. Although Rosemary begs Dick to have sex with her, Dick refuses, and their relationship remains largely platonic, though their feelings for one another continue to grow.

In Paris, Abe North gets particularly drunk during one evening, and the next morning, while the group is waiting for a train to take North out of the city, a woman whom Nicole knows shoots an Englishman, a foreshadowing of the violence that is about to enter into the Divers' lives.

On the morning following the shooting, Nicole is awakened by a man who is looking for North, and later she receives a call asking more questions about him. As far as Nicole knows, North is gone. However, unbeknownst to everyone, North has decided not to leave Paris and is spending the day drinking heavily in a bar. It turns out that North has been involved in an exchange of money with a black man the night before, and as a result another black man has been wrongly accused of some related wrongdoing. North is too drunk to understand, so he returns to the Divers' hotel with Jules Peterson, one of the black men in question, to try to sort things out. Dick is in Rosemary's room making out with her when Abe knocks on the door. Dick takes North and Peterson back to his room and convinces North to leave for America right away to avoid problems. After Abe leaves, Rosemary returns to her room only to find Mr. Peterson lying dead on her bed, having just been shot.

Dick quickly removes all evidence of the dead man from Rosemary's room, thus ensuring that she will remain free of controversy, and as Book One closes, Rosemary becomes privy to a scene between Dick and his hysterical wife, and she understands what Mrs. McKisco has experienced back at the villa.

Book 2

Book Two opens by flashing back to 1917. Dick is a twenty-six-year-old practitioner of psychiatry who has come to Zurich to study with Dr. Franz Gregorovius. Shortly after arriving at Zurich, he is ordered to serve at a clinic in France where he engages in a correspondence with the young Nicole Warren, a patient in Zurich whom he has met briefly.

When the war ends, Diver returns to the Zurich clinic, and in the course of his discussions with Gregorovius, Nicole's story emerges.

Gregorovius has been approached by Devereax Warren, a wealthy American whose eighteen-year-old daughter, Nicole, has been experiencing bizarre "fits" and was having delusions about total strangers sexually abusing her. Nicole has just lost her mother and brother, and under closer scrutiny, Warren admits to having had sexual relationships with his daughter. Gregorovius agrees to treat the young woman as long as the father agrees to stay away from her for at least five years.

Although Gregorovius admits that Dick's letters to Nicole seem to have facilitated her recovery, he expresses his concerns to Dick about Dick's growing fondness for the patient. For several months thereafter, Dick remains distant from Nicole and invests his energies in a book he is writing. However, during a break in his writing, he visits the Alps where he runs into Nicole and her sister, Baby Warren. At a restaurant that night, Baby explains how she is planning to bring Nicole back to Chicago where she hopes to "buy" a doctor to marry and take care of Nicole. In the meantime, Nicole has wandered from the table, and when Dick finds her, Nicole kisses him. Dick is later cajoled into taking Nicole back to Zurich with him, and within a few months they are married.

The young couple quickly grows to enjoy the luxury of Nicole's money, and for awhile everything seems perfect. By now the book has moved forward to 1925 again. Through his burgeoning but still unconsummated relationship with Rosemary, Dick has come to realize that he no longer loves Nicole. He also realizes that since his marriage, he has spent little time on his writing or career.

Gregorovius arrives on the scene to tell Dick that there is a psychiatric clinic available in Zurich. Coincidentally, Baby and Nicole have just come into more than enough money for Dick to purchase the clinic. Despite his early protestations, Dick agrees to take Nicole's money and enters into practice with his former mentor.

Things quickly begin to go bad at the clinic, however. Dick feels owned by his wife and Baby, and Nicole, in return, feels deprived because Dick is spending so much time at work. A former patient accuses him of seducing her daughter, an accusation not entirely without merit. Nicole reacts angrily and makes a scene at a local fair where they have taken the children. On the way home from the fair, Nicole grabs the steering wheel, forcing the car off the road and nearly killing her family.

Dick takes time off from his marriage and the clinic and goes to Munich where he runs into Barban, who has just rescued a Russian prince. Barban informs Dick that Abe has just been beaten to death in a speakeasy in New York. Saddened, Dick wanders to his hotel alone where he finds a telegram from Nicole informing him of his father's death in America. Guilt-ridden, Dick returns to Virginia to see his father buried.

On his return to Europe, Dick lands in Italy hoping to find Rosemary in Rome where she is at work on a new movie. After meeting her in her hotel room, they kiss passionately and make arrangements to meet again; at this second meeting, their relationship is finally consummated. Unfortunately, Dick does not feel the joy he thought the act would bring.

After meeting a few more times, Dick realizes that Rosemary no longer idolizes him and may in fact be in love with another man. Ignoring a note from Rosemary asking him to return to her room, Dick proceeds to get drunk with Collis Clay, a young Yale graduate and acquaintance of Rosemary. At a cabaret, Dick picks a fight with the orchestra leader and later fights with a cabdriver and is taken into police custody where he punches a man who turns out to be a detective. From prison, Dick must call Baby Warren to rescue him.

Bruised, battered, and well on his way to becoming a lonely drunk, Dick is sedated at the end of Book Two by a doctor as Baby smugly watches over him.

Media Adaptations

  1. In 1955, Tender Is the Night was adapted as an hour-long television special, starring Mercedes McCambridge as Nicole Diver. In 1962, the novel was adapted as a Hollywood film by Henry King. Produced by Twentieth Century Fox Studios, the film stars Jennifer Jones, Jason Robards, Jr., Joan Fontaine, Tom Ewell, and Jill St. John and is available on video. A 1985 three-hour miniseries adaptation, starring Peter Strauss, Edward Asner, and Sean Young was directed by Robert Knight.
  2. A ten-cassette, unabridged reading of the novel was produced by Sterling Audio out of Thorndike, Maine.
  3. Of related interest, "Last Call: The Final Chapter of F. Scott Fitzgerald," starring Jeremy Irons and Sissy Spacek, was released as a Showtime Original Picture in 2003 and is available on video. This video depicts the last few months of Fiztgerald's life.

Book 3

When Dick returns to the clinic, he lies to Nicole about his bruises and quickly re-immerses himself in his work. He becomes attached to a woman painter who is struggling with a skin disease, and when she unexpectedly dies, he becomes so distraught that Gregorovius must send him away. He goes to Laussane to meet a prospective patient, and after interviewing the patient, Dick learns that Nicole's father is dying nearby of a liver failure caused by his drinking. Warren's doctor tells Dick that Warren wants to see his daughter one more time before he dies.

Through a series of botched communications, the news of her father's sickness mistakenly reaches Nicole, who immediately rushes to Laussane to be with her father. However, by the time Nicole arrives, the father has left the hospital on his own. The couple returns to the clinic, and soon thereafter a patient complains of liquor on Dick's breath. Dick and Gregorovius decide that it is best for Dick to leave the clinic, and Gregorovius makes arrangements to buy Dick out of his stake in the clinic.

Dick and his family travel through Europe and eventually return to the villa where several incidents take place that further highlight Dick's decline. For instance, Dick accuses a cook of stealing wine, but when the cook retaliates by calling him a drunk, the Divers must pay the woman off to get rid of her. On board T. F. Golding's yacht during a party to which Dick had invited himself and Nicole, he insults Lady Caroline Sibly-Biers, and the host of the party must step in to save the situation. On the deck of the yacht, Nicole tries to talk to Dick, but Dick interjects by accusing her of ruining him, and he grabs both of her wrists and suggests that they end it all right then and there by jumping overboard. This is the last straw for Nicole.

Later in the week, when Nicole and Dick go down to the beach together to look for their children, they notice Rosemary swimming. Dick swims out to show off for Rosemary, and in one of the book's most pathetic scenes, he tries several times to perform a stunt by lifting a man on his shoulders while waterskiing. Rosemary watches him make a fool of himself, an act that spells the definitive end of her infatuation with him. On the beach, an interaction with Rosemary forces Nicole to walk away from her husband definitively, and she sets off to seduce Barban, whom she had met again at the party on the yacht, with a letter.

The next day, while Dick is off following Rosemary to Provence, Nicole and Barban make love at a nearby hotel. The next day, Barban confronts Dick about Nicole, and the three of them go to a café where Barban declares that Nicole loves him and wants a divorce. Without arguing, Dick quietly agrees and simply walks away.

After spending a day with the children, Dick leaves Nicole a note, makes a final gesture of farewell to the beach, and leaves for America. He tries to settle down in upstate New York, near his boyhood home, but scandals and questionable situations shadow him wherever he goes. After moving from one small town to another, he quietly disappears.


Tommy Barban

Half-American, half-European, Tommy Barban is a mercenary soldier with few refined qualities. Without the social or cultural sophistication of the Divers or their other friends, Barban relies on his decisiveness and self-confidence to get by. Barban is introduced as one of Dick and Nicole Divers' devout friends. In fact, early on, Barban even fights a duel to defend the honor of the Divers. As the plot develops, however, it becomes clear that Barban loves Nicole, and by the end of novel he has successfully taken her away from Dick. He is portrayed by Fitzgerald as a man who knows what he wants, and when it comes time to take Nicole, he does so decisively and without qualms.

Luis Campion

Luis Campion is the effeminate friend of the McKiscos who informs Rosemary Hoyt, at 3 a.m., of the duel that is about to take place between Albert McKisco and Tommy Barbaran.

Prince Chillicheff

A character noted only in passing, Prince Chillicheff is the Russian prince whom Tommy Barban rescues from Russia.

Collis Clay

Collis Clay is a young graduate of Yale and an acquaintance of Rosemary. He tells Dick stories about Rosemary's past, which sends Dick into fits of sexual jealousy. Clay is also with Dick the night Dick gets drunk and ends up in prison.

Dick Diver

The protagonist of the novel, Dick Diver is a complex, handsome, and brilliant up-and-coming young psychiatrist when he is first introduced. A Rhodes scholar from America who is in Europe to study with the great psychiatrists of the time, he is introduced to Nicole Warren, a wealthy woman and one of the clinic's patients, by Dr. Dohmler, one of his colleagues at the Zurich clinic, which he has just joined. Dick treats Nicole, and when she shows signs of recovery, against the advice of Dohmler he marries her. It is the marriage of Dick and Nicole around which Tender Is the Night revolves. Although Dick must contend with Nicole's schizophrenia, for a while the Divers are happily married and gain a reputation for the parties they give and the social set that follows them around. Nicole's wealth affords the couple a luxury and comfort that Dick himself could never have attained. Over time, however, Dick begins to feel trapped in the relationship, and he becomes attracted to other women. In particular, he impetuously falls in love with the young and talented movie star Rosemary Hoyt. It is with Hoyt that Dick has a long-standing relationship that is fully consummated years after they meet. As one of the more complex characters of the novel, Dick allows his amours and his self-indulgence to get the better of him. Although he eventually comes to the realization that Rosemary is too young and immature for him, by this time alcohol has taken its toll, and Dick's career has been ruined and his marriage has been destroyed. Utterly alone, he returns to America and gradually disappears somewhere in upstate New York, far from the Europe that has indulged his fancy for years.

Although he is a psychiatrist and not a writer, Dick is seen as a fictional projection of Fitzgerald himself. Like Fitzgerald, Dick is a rising star in his field at a young age, and like Fitzgerald, who married the psychologically troubled Zelda Sayre, Dick marries the schizophrenically-inclined Nicole Driver. And finally, like his creator, Dick becomes a serious alcoholic and watches his vast talents waste away until he himself disappears.

Lanier Diver

Lanier Diver is Dick and Nicole's son. He plays a minor role in the novel.

Nicole Diver

Nicole Diver, born Nicole Warren, is the daughter of the wealthy Chicago magnate Devereux Warren. Barely eighteen years of age when she is introduced to Dick Diver, one of the clinic's new practitioners, she has been diagnosed at the Zurich clinic where she is a patient as "tending towards schizophrenic." One of the sources of her illness is the sexual abuse she experienced at the hands of her father shortly after her mother's death, a theme that is played out throughout the novel. Despite her illness, she grows to fall in love with Dick, marries him, and has two children. It is with her wealth that she and Dick come to be regarded as one of Europe's most beautiful and sophisticated couples. Despite the air of cultural sophistication she projects, Nicole is portrayed as a weak and pathetic character. Throughout her life she has been at the complete mercy of other people. First it is her father, who sexually abuses her and sends her off to live in a European clinic; then Dr. Gregorovius and Dick, who treats her for her psychological problems; and throughout her recovery, her sister, Baby Warren, who controls her finances. At the end of the novel, when Dick's affairs and drinking have become too much for Nicole to live with, she is "rescued" by Tommy Barban, with whom she has an affair and marries.

In many ways, Nicole is the fictional representation of Zelda Sayre, Fitzgerald's wife. Sayre, the daughter of an Alabaman judge, suffered from years of psychological problems during her marriage to Fitzgerald, which is seen by many to be one of the causes of the writer's declining writing abilities, his financial problems, and his severe drinking.

Topsy Diver

Topsy is Dick and Nicole's daughter, about whom very little is written.

Dr. Dohmler

Dr. Dohmler is the psychologist who initially handles Nicole's case at the Zurich clinic that Dick first joins. It is Dohlmer who urges Dick to terminate his relationship with Nicole.

T. F. Golding

T. F. Golding owns a yacht that is moored near the Divers' villa. He is hosting the party on his yacht to which Dick invites himself and Nicole to shortly after their return from Zurich.

Dr. Franz Gregorovius

Dr. Gregory Gregorovius is a German psychologist and one of Dick's colleagues. With Nicole's money, Dick opens up a clinic with Gregorovius, but when Dick begins to lose control of his drinking and patients begin to complain, Gregorovius buys the clinic from him.

Rosemary Hoyt

Rosemary Hoyt is the successful seventeen-year-old film actress with whom Dick Diver has an affair. Only seventeen when she first meets the Divers, she is vacationing with her mother and taking a break from just having starred in the Hollywood hit Daddy's Girl. It is Rosemary who immediately falls for Dick, and it is her mother who urges her to follow through on her feelings. Although she maintains a cordial and even respectful relationship with Nicole during her affair with Dick, she is, in the end, the primary reason for the dissolution of Dick and Nicole's marriage.

Controlled by a domineering and amoral mother, Rosemary is portrayed as a polite, naïve young woman who is clearly a virgin when she first meets the Divers, but several years later, when Dick follows her to Italy during the shooting of a new film, it is clear that she has lost much of that innocence. It is in Italy that her relationship with Dick is willingly consummated. Dick eventually admits to himself that she is too young and immature for him, and Rosemary likewise realizes that she no longer has any interest in Dick.

Albert McKisco

Albert McKisco fancies himself as an American intellectual and writer, when the book opens. Following a duel with Tommy Barban, he actually grows to become a highly successful novelist in America.

Violet McKisco

Violet McKisco is the social-climbing, obnoxious wife of Albert McKisco. She is constantly described as clinging to her husband and praising his intellect and writing abilities.

Conte di Minghetti

Conte di Minghetti marries Mary North following Abe North's death.

Abe North

Abe North is a close friend of Dick Diver and is described as once having been a brilliant musician, although there is some disagreement among Diver's friends as to that description. A severe alcoholic, he often drinks himself into oblivion and finds himself immersed in troubles of his own doing. He is eventually killed in a fight in a speakeasy.

Mary North

Mary North is Abe North's wife, who helplessly watches Abe drink his life away. After Abe is killed in the bar fight, Mary marries the wealthy Conte di Minghetti.

Jules Peterson

Jules Peterson, a black man, is one of the victims of Abe North's drinking. Under mysterious circumstances, he is found dead in Rosemary's hotel room—a death that is attributed to events surrounding North's drinking the night before.

Lady Caroline Sibly-Biers

Lady Caroline is a thin, petite, good-looking British woman whom Dick meets on Golding's yacht and proceeds to insult. Later, Dick rescues Lady Caroline, along with Mary di Minghetti, from prison for picking up a woman while impersonating a man.

Mrs. Elsie Speers

Mrs. Elsie Speers is the mother and business agent of her daughter, Rosemary hoyt. After her second husband's death, she put all of her savings into Rosemary's career, and she sees herself not only as Rosemary's mother but also as her friend and business agent. It is she who prods Rosemary to pursue a relationship with the married Dick Driver. Speers's purpose in life is to provide her daughter with the support needed to become an emotionally and financially independent woman, experienced in the ways of the world—no matter the cost to the people around her.

Maria Wallis

Maria Wallis snubs Nicole at the train station just before she kills an American woman with a revolver.

Baby Warren

One of the more coldhearted and manipulative women in Tender Is the Night is Nicole Diver's older sister, Baby Warren. A spinster who lives in England, she is a true snob who makes it known at every available opportunity that she believes the English represent the finest the world has to offer. She is a woman who literally retreats from human touch. Baby Warren is in charge of her family's vast resources, and she uses that money to make certain that Nicole is taken care of. At one point she suggests to Dick Diver that she buy a Chicago doctor for Nicole to marry, and it is through her manipulation that Dick and Nicole travel alone together—a trip that leads to the couple's marriage. Baby Warren also knows that she holds the purse strings Dick needs to continue his lifestyle, and although she does not necessarily approve of Dick's marriage to Nicole, she ultimately wants what is best for her sister, and she is willing and very able to use Dick to those ends.

Devereux Warren

Devereux Warren is the wealthy Midwestern businessman who loses his wife and sexually abuses his daughter, Nicole. An alcoholic himself, he places Nicole into the Zurich mental clinic before returning to America. Fitzgerald portrays him as a weak and vile man.



Alcohol came to play a leading role in F. Scott Fitzgerald's life. During his wife's emotional decline, he drank excessively, and though he technically died of a heart attack, there is no question that his lifestyle and his abuse of alcohol played a contributing role in his death. Likewise, alcohol came to rule and ruin Dick Diver. When we first meet Diver, he is a happy-go-lucky bon vivant, always reaching for a drink but never in excess. By the novel's conclusion, however, alcohol has helped to ruin his marriage and his career.

Dick Diver, however, is not the only character affected by drinking. Nearly everyone in the book drinks to varying degrees of excess, and Abe North is eventually killed because of his drinking. Fitzgerald is preoccupied in Tender Is the Night with the effects alcohol has on his characters and their careers.


Although there are only a few characters who could be classified as artists in Tender Is the Night, Fitzgerald treats their characters with more respect than he does the others. Albert McKisco, for instance, is portrayed early on as an aspiring writer, but years later when Diver meets him on the ship coming back from America, he has emerged as a successful author and is a much more pleasant person to accompany. At the clinic that he runs with Dr. Gregorovius, Diver became intensely affected by the death of a woman painter—the one case he seems to have truly cared about.

European Capitalism

Following World War I, as Europe rebuilt its economy, there was great weight placed on attracting wealthy Americans to the continent. However, with that wealth came the stereotype of the "ugly American"—loud, brash, unsophisticated, and entirely self-centered.

Fitzgerald, who spent much of his adult life in Europe, saw the effects Americans had on European culture firsthand, and Tender Is the Night portrays some of those effects. In the process of courting money to help establish the burgeoning capitalist structures, Europeans were forced to compromise a great deal of their culture and in the process lost a fair amount of the identity that had always set them apart from America and the rest of the world.

Class Structure

Fitzgerald's world is a upper-class world, replete with servants, personal attendants, and all the formalities that great wealth affords. Nicole Diver, by virtue of her birth, has been given a handsome allowance by her sister, the executor of her family's money, and as a result she and Dick Diver are never without the luxurious decorations money brings. Their positions in society are never questioned, and discussions among friends often fall to the topic of pedigree. Baby Diver, for instance, interviews Dick on his family and wealth before he marries Nicole, and when she delivers Dick from jail, she continually reminds the police of who she and, by extension, Dick are. Abe North, in the oblivion of drink, falls to the depths of the lower classes where he dies, and even Dick Diver, once alcohol gets the best of him, falls into the oblivion of small-town America, far removed from the upper classes of his European life.


Although Dick and Nicole Diver have two children, very little is made of them until problems in the marriage or other relationships occur. At the scene at the fair, following the disclosure that Dick was being accused of harassment by a patient, the children are left with a gypsy woman, and after the car accident, they are whisked off to the inn. In one of the few times a character directly addresses one of the children, Rosemary asks Topsy if she would like to be an actress, a question that causes Nicole to storm away. Only after he decides to leave Nicole, does Dick spend time with the children, but shortly following his exile to upstate New York, he stops corresponding even with them.

At the clinic, Dick is asked to interview a young man who is about to be disowned by his father because of his homosexuality. Nicole's family background involves incest. Even Rosemary and her mother, the other major example of a family in the book, are as much friends and business partners as they are mother and daughter to one another. Dick's relationship with his own father amounts to years of no communication and then, suddenly, news of the father's death.

In short, Tender Is the Night does not reflect well on the family structure; Fitzgerald has little to say that is redeeming about families or their roles in any of the characters' lives.


Incest is a major theme in Tender Is the Night. Nicole is ruined emotionally and psychologically by the incestuous relationship her father inflicts upon her. That relationship colors every aspect of her and Dick's life; there is nothing that happens in Tender Is the Night that cannot be, in some way, attributed to Devereux Warren's sexual abuse of his daughter.

It is no accident that the movie Rosemary Hoyt has just starred in is called Daddy's Girl, and neither is it an accident that both Rosemary and Nicole fall for the much older Dick Diver who, in many ways, is as much a father to the women, especially Nicole, as he is a partner or lover. There is no question that Fitzgerald used the incest motif in his book consciously and to wide-ranging effect.


Dick Diver is a brilliant, up-and-coming psychiatrist when he first meets Nicole. He is passionate about his studies and hopes to write a definitive text on psychiatry. However, the more he engages in the practice, the more he sees psychiatry as a plaything for the very wealthy, for it is only the wealthy who can afford it. In Book Two, Dick engages in a conversation with Dr. Gregorovius about Gregorovius's youthful plans of opening "an up-to-date clinic for billionaires." Fitzgerald clearly portrays the field as more of a business than as an instrument for healing. Also, one of the few cases he actually shows passion about is with a woman artist who seems not to fit the stereotype of the rich, pampered client. When she dies, he is devastated, and he effectively moves to end his practice of psychiatry. And after years as a clinician, he seems so confused about his thoughts on psychiatry that he cannot even think clearly enough to properly title his book.

Fitzgerald, because of his years with his wife Zelda and her severe psychiatric problems, grew to know the industry and its practices intimately. Tender Is the Night does not paint a positive picture of the practice.

Topics For Further Study

  1. F. Scott Fitzgerald was part of a group of writers known as the "Lost Generation." Research the origin of that term and the writers who were included. What did the writers have in common with one another? What made them "lost?"
  2. Tender Is the Night was published in 1934, nine years after Fitzgerald's previous book, The Great Gatsby, was published. Research some of the events that transpired in the United States and Europe in those nine years. What effects did those changes have on the critical reception of Tender Is the Night? Do you think readers would have responded to the book differently had it been published in 1928? What would have been the differences in their response?
  3. The title of Tender Is the Night comes from the John Keats poem "Ode to a Nightingale." Analyze Keats's poem, and explain why Fitzgerald quoted from this poem for his title. What does the title mean? Are there any thematic similarities between the Keats poem and Tender Is the Night?
  4. Many readers view Tender Is the Night as Fitzgerald's most autobiographical novel. Some see Dick and Nicole Diver as being Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, whereas others believe Fitzgerald intended Albert McKisco and his wife to represent himself and Zelda. Research the life of the Fitzgeralds. Who do you think are most representative of the Fitzgeralds in the book? Why?


Just beneath the surface of the luxurious and idyllic life that the group of wealthy American expatriates lead, there exists a significant amount of violence. When Dick and Nicole are seeing Abe North off at the train station, a woman shoots a man for no obvious reason. Much earlier in the novel, Tommy Barban and Albert McKisco engage in a duel. After his drunken spree, Dick assaults a band-leader, a taxicab driver, and a detective, and he himself is then violently dealt with by the police. Abe North, who was the cause of the death of Jules Peterson, is last mentioned with respect to his violent death at a New York speakeasy, and of course the entire novel is permeated by the violence inflicted upon Nicole by her father.


Although Tender Is the Night takes place during the interwar years, the echoes of the Great War, World War I, reverberate throughout the entire story. At the clinic, Dr. Gregorovius says that even though Diver lacks firsthand experience of war, that does not necessarily mean he has not been affected by it. Gregorovius tells Dick of "some shell-shocks who merely hear an air raid from a distance. We have a few who merely read newspapers." Much later Dick has a dream filled with war imagery, and he wakes up and notes, "Non-combatant's shell-shock." At the battlefields of Somme, standing with Abe North and Rosemary, Dick eulogizes at great length about what was lost during the war. "All my beautiful lovely safe world blew itself up here with a great gust of high explosive love," he says. World War I had destroyed much of what Europe had come to be known for, and with it, it had destroyed the lives of millions. Fitzgerald returns to this theme throughout Tender Is the Night and is possibly making a connection between it and the violence that underscores his characters' lives.


First and foremost, Fitzgerald, in nearly all of his major works, addresses the theme of wealth and the effects it has on individuals and societies. In Fitzgerald's fictional universe, nearly everyone is rich or has access to the attendant luxuries of the very rich. Set in a time referred to as the "Jazz Age," Tender Is the Night explores how a small group of very rich Americans live and, eventually, die. None of the rich come off well under Fitzgerald's examination. Baby Diver, as executor of her family's wealth, is portrayed as manipulative and controlling; her father, the wealthy Chicago magnate, destroys Nicole's life through sexual abuse. And although Dick Diver himself is not rich, once he fully accepts Nicole's world, his own life and desires seep from him, and he slowly disappears into an alcoholic oblivion. Wealth seems to have no redeeming value in Fitzgerald's eyes, other than its ability to allow for some exciting, but ultimately destructive, evenings.



The title comes from a line in John Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale": The poem, with its forlorn images of drinking, fits the character and tone of the book. As a young writer Fitzgerald was profoundly influenced by Keats. While in Italy, in chapter XXII of Book Two, on his way back to his hotel where a note from Rosemary is awaiting him, Dick feels his "spirits soared before the flower stalls and the house where Keats had died."

Three-Part Narrative Structure

Tender Is the Night is divided into three sections, or Books. Although the novel is narrated in the third person, Book One opens from the perspective of Rosemary Hoyt and focuses on the glittering surface of Dick and Nicole Divers' life. Just as Rosemary is seduced by the glamour and luxury of that life, so is the reader; though, as the perspective evolves, there are hints that not all is well with Nicole and Dick and that the life they lead is not all glitz and glamour.

Book Two moves back in time to reveal what lies beneath the surface of the Divers' charm. It effectively unveils Nicole's case history for the reader just as it does the evolution of her relationship to Dick. Finally, in Book Three, Dick is shown trying to make sense of his life. The brilliant sheen of Book One has worn off, and the events told in Book Two have taken their toll, and now, in Book Three, it is time for Dick to move on.


The first sense that we have that something is not right with the Divers' marriage comes in Book One, when Mrs. McKisco comes upon a "scene" between Dick and Nicole in the bathroom during the party. The event foretells Nicole's emotional problems and is the first of many such "scenes."

Also in Book One, Tommy Barban meets Rosemary Hoyt for the first time and tells her that he is very fond of the Divers, "especially of Nicole." Barban eventually takes Nicole away from Dick and marries her.

A foreshadowing of the violence that is about to enter the Divers' lives takes place in the train station as Abe North is about to depart. A woman whom Nicole knows shoots an Englishman for no obvious reason. The next day, Jules Peterson is found dead on Rosemary's bed, and Dick must hide evidence to keep scandal from engulfing them.

The Symbolism of Names

Fitzgerald uses names and titles to add to the development of character and plot and to elaborate on the book's metaphors and themes. For instance, Rosemary Hoyt's film is called Daddy's Girl, an obvious reference to the incest theme that pervades the book. Nicole is a victim of sexual abuse by her father, and the allusion to the much older Dick being a father figure to Rosemary is obvious. Nicole is as much "daddy's girl" as is Rosemary; not only has she been sexually abused by her father, but Dick, an older man, assumes the father role in his treatment of his wife's psychological problems.

The name Dick Diver is suggestive of the dual role his character plays in the book. The vulgar associations of "Dick" and "Diver" fit well with his unabashed womanizing, and by the book's conclusion, his character has become something of a social "diver" as opposed to a social "climber."

Tommy Barban, a mercenary soldier who seems somewhat ill-fitting amongst the sophisticated crowds that surround the Divers, has a name that echoes "barbaric."


Book Two employs flashback to reveal the history of Nicole's illness and her relationship with Dick. Fitzgerald was criticized for this structure when Tender Is the Night was first published, and following the book's publication, Fitzgerald began reconsidering the flashback sequence. In 1951, Tender Is the Night was reedited by Malcolm Cowley and published "With the Author's Final Revisions." Among those revisions was the placing of Nicole's case history, and much of Books Two and Three, at the start of the book and pushing the beach scene and most of Book One back. Cowley's revisions received tremendous criticism, and the original sequence of the book was eventually restored.

Historical Context

Set in Europe between 1925 and 1935, and with flashbacks that cover the years 1917 to 1925, Tender Is the Night describes a group of wealthy and idle American expatriates who, like their counterparts of the "Jazz Age" and the "Roaring Twenties," have little else to do but eat, drink, attend parties, and survive their personal crises.

When Dick Diver first arrives in Zurich, a war is raging across Europe. Although there are references to an earlier time when he was studying in Vienna and had a firsthand experience with the shelling and its resultant discomforts, Diver is largely unaffected on a personal level by the war. Europe, however, was recovering from the devastating effects of the war that was to have ended all wars. Millions of Europeans were killed, and entire cities were ruined. During the decade in which the book largely takes place, Europe as a whole was still working to rebuild its infrastructures.

Meanwhile, in America, the period known as the Roaring Twenties was well under way. With the stock market surging, a generation of "nouveau riche" Americans found their way to the European shores and cities with lots of money to spend. Desperate for the infusion of capital, Europe was forced to pander to these Americans, though not without some cultural conflicts. Tender Is the Night describes typical wealthy Americans who live idly off the European continent. Although the term "ugly American" would not be coined for many years, Tender Is the Night chronicles the early years of how that term may have evolved.

Fitzgerald himself was a member of what was called the Lost Generation of writers—a group of mostly young men that included Ernest Hemingway, among others. Coined by poet Gertrude Stein, the Lost Generation referred to writers who left their native America after World War I and settled in Europe, mostly France, where they wrote and claimed a rejection of the materialistic values that had engulfed America. Although Fitzgerald was immersed in the culture of the wealthy and was largely known as a chronicler of the "Jazz Age," his work can be seen as a serious indictment of the wealth that arose during those years.

Tender Is the Night, which had its genesis in letters and notes Fitzgerald wrote as early as 1925 shortly after The Great Gatsby, was not published until 1934. In that time, the great wealth that had come to define his subjects had suddenly disappeared in the crash of 1929. By the time the book was finally finished, America was in the midst of the Great Depression, and the country's literary tastes had shifted radically. The movement of social realism had begun to take hold, and Fitzgerald's work was suddenly seen by some as anachronistic and petty. Although Tender Is the Night was deeply critical of the wealthy and the effects of their money, because it was not a "political" book, per se, it was not taken as seriously as it might have been had it been written before the crash.

With the greater perspective that the years have afforded, Tender Is the Night can now also be seen, on one level, as a chronicle of the effects the war had on an entire generation. While standing in the midst of what was recently a great battlefield where tens of thousands died, Dick Diver says:

This land here cost twenty lives a foot that summer… See that little stream—we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month to walk it—a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly backward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs. No Europeans will ever do that again in this generation.

Compare & Contrast

  1. 1920s: Having just experienced the devastating effects of World War I, Europe is working to rebuild its economies and infrastructures.

    Today: After the fall of Communism in the 1990s, European countries form the European Union—an economic organization that brings European countries under a consistent monetary system and economic policies. The European Union today has the potential of becoming one of the strongest economic entities in the world.

  2. 1930s: Many Americans who amassed fortunes in the stock market surges of the previous decade have lost everything because of the crash of 1929.

    Today: After the stock market decline of 2000 and the "dot com" crash, many of the young Americans who became rich with stock options in the 1990s have lost much of their wealth.

  3. 1930s: Although many American blacks had relocated to France to avoid the discrimination in the United States, discrimination against blacks still exists, and blacks have a difficult time entering some businesses and public establishments.

    Today: Discrimination is illegal in France and is considered a human rights violation.

  4. 1930s: By the time Tender Is the Night is published, many readers and critics have come to embrace the new movement of "social realism" in literature and the art.

    Today: Social realism is not a viable artistic movement, per se, although elements of the movement and working class themes abound in contemporary literature and art.

  5. 1920s–1930s: F. Scott Fitzgerald's long-standing relationship with his editor at Scribners, Maxwell Perkins, is instrumental to his career. Perkins helps to guide virtually every aspect of Fitzgeralds' life, including his writing, finances, and health-related issues.

    Today: The role that editors in large publishing firms once held has been primarily replaced by agents. The "Maxwell Perkinses" of the past are mostly long gone.

Tender Is the Night is also very much a critique of the burgeoning psychiatric industry to which the wealthy had access. When Dick Diver traveled to Zurich, Europe was being greatly affected by the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud and his contemporaries. Fitzgerald, because of his wife's long-standing psychiatric problems, became something of an expert on psychiatry and its various theories and cures. Although psychiatry was making huge theoretical and practical leaps during the time Tender Is the Night takes place, the fact is that it was very much a cure for the very wealthy, a point that Fitzgerald clearly recognizes and effectively criticizes throughout his work.

Critical Overview

When it was first published in 1934, reviewers and readers picked up Tender Is the Night with some trepidation. It had been nearly a decade since his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, had been published, and there were rumors in literary circles that Fitzgerald was done for as a writer. Although the book did not sell nearly as well as his earlier books, reviewers were generally favorable in their response to Fitzgerald's new book. (Tender Is the Night sold about fifteen thousand copies in 1934, according to Matthew J. Bruccoli, writing in his introduction to Reader's Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night, compared to the forty-one thousand copies This Side of Paradise sold in its first year of publication and the fifty thousand copies The Beautiful and the Damned sold in its first year.) Over the years, critics and scholars have come to regard Tender Is the Night not only as one of Fitzgerald's major works but one of American literature's most important novels of the twentieth century.

According to Bruccoli, of the twenty-four reviews published in "influential American periodicals, nine were favorable, six were unfavorable, and nine were mixed."

Writing in the New York Times, John Chamberlain called the rumors of Fitzgerald's demise "gossip," and he went on to write that from a technical viewpoint, although Tender Is the Night is not as perfect as The Great Gatsby, it is "an exciting and psychologically apt study in the disintegration of a marriage." In contrast, Horace Gregory, writing in the New York Herald Tribune, described the book as being "not all that it should have been. There is an air of dangerous fatality about it, as though the author were sharing the failure of his protagonist." Gregory, however, concluded his review by acknowledging that several isolated scenes in the book had "extraordinary power" and would "not be soon forgotten."

In a review titled "Fitzgerald's Novel a Masterpiece," Cameron Rogers, referring to the long period of time it had been since The Great Gatsby was published, wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that "Tender Is the Night is so well worth [the wait] that Fitzgerald's silence … seems natural and explicable" and that "there is so much beauty, so much compassion and so much understanding [in the book] that it seems as though it could only have sprung from a mind left wisely fallow."

In a criticism of the book that continues to this day, Mary M. Colum, in her Forum and Century review, pointed to the weakness of Fitzgerald's characterizations, especially Nicole's. Colum calls passages describing Nicole "more like a case history from a textbook than a novelist's study of a real character." And in Fitzgerald's hometown paper, the St. Paul Dispatch, James Gray called the novel "a big, sprawling, undisciplined, badly coordinated book" and went on to call it "immature."

One of the issues that Fitzgerald faced was that in the nine years since he had last published, the cultural make-up of the United States had changed dramatically. In a short piece published in the New York Times a few days after his review of Tender Is the Night appeared, John Chamberlain encapsulated one of the effects this time lag had on the reception of the book. After reading the early reviews of the book, Chamberlain concluded that none of them were "alike; no two had the same tone." He noted that some critics thought "Fitzgerald was writing about his usual jazz age boys and girls; others that he had a 'timeless' problem on his hands."

Chamberlain's observations of the book's critical responses underscored the challenges Fitzgerald had with Tender Is the Night. In the nine years since he had published The Great Gatsby, the American psyche and reading public had changed radically. Although Tender Is the Night was not the same type of book as was The Great Gatsby, it was not sufficiently different or enough reflective of society's changes to appease many of his critics or readers. The so-called "Jazz Age," a time noted for its extravagance and material excesses, and the period in which Fitzgerald's reputation had flowered, had been replaced by the severe austerity of the depression. As a result, the literary tastes of the society had changed radically; many reviewers and readers had little patience for books reminding them of the frivolous past, and the age of social realism had begun to emerge across all art forms. Tender Is the Night's characterizations of the rich and idle seemed anachronistic to many readers and reviewers, and for many the book was not the type of literature the difficult times were calling for. As a result, the book's reception was not uniform in either its praise or its criticism; it would take years for critics to gain the distance necessary to understand the book's complexities and its relationship to Fitzgerald's other works.


Mark White

White is the publisher of the Seattle-based Scala House Press. In this essay, White argues that the novel's structure is an integral part of Tender Is the Night and helps to deepen the reader's understanding of the novel.

One of the criticisms leveled at Tender Is the Night shortly following its publication concerned its structure. F. Scott Fitzgerald's use of flashback in Book Two, many critics felt, resulted in an unwieldy book. Writing in the St. Paul Dispatch, James Gray called the novel "big, sprawling, [and] badly coordinated" and went on to criticize the book for its "technical fault of poor organization." The issue of its organization plagued Fitzgerald so much in the years following the book's publication that he began to wonder if he should not have presented the story chronologically. A decade after Fitzgerald's death, Malcolm Cowley used the author's personal notes to justify the publication a new version of Tender Is the Night, which he subtitled "The Author's Final Version." In Cowley's revision, which was not well received by critics, the tragic story of Dick Diver is told chronologically; Cowley eliminated the book's flashback sequence by placing much of Books Two and Three at the start of the novel, before Book One.

However, the three-part structure with the flashback sequence in Book Two is one of the novel's great strengths. Fitzgerald's decision to organize the book in this way allows the reader to experience the demise of Dick Diver, just as young and naïve Rosemary Hoyt experiences it. From what Fitzgerald reveals in Book One, who would not want to be, or be with, Dick Diver? He is rich, handsome, and the envy of his large circle of friends. Although there are hints of pending trouble in his life, his world is a wondrous one. However, as the unwondrous truths about his and Nicole's past emerge in Book Two, the stage is being set for his precipitous fall and ultimate disappearance in Book Three. The three-part structure of Tender Is the Night effectively mirrors the way Rosemary Hoyt views Dick Diver over time and helps to deepen the reader's understanding of his tragic story.

In the Introduction to Reader's Companion to Tender Is the Night, Fitzgerald scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli chronicles the genesis of what would eventually become "The Author's Final Version" of Tender Is the Night. Shortly after the book's publication, when it became apparent that it would not be the commercial success Fitzgerald hoped it would be, Fitzgerald questioned the novel's structure in letters to friends and in his own journals and notes. In 1938, he wrote his editor, Maxwell Perkins, asking him to consider republishing the novel with the middle section placed at the beginning. In the letter, Fitzgerald cited a "dozen reviewers" who had noticed the "mistake" of the book's structure.

Perkins declined Fitzgerald's suggestion, but Fitzgerald did not let the idea die. At the time of his death in 1940, he had in his possession an unbound copy of Tender Is the Night in which he had written, "This is the final version of the book as I would like it." Essentially, Fitzgerald's new version opens with Nicole Diver's case history, as told in Book Two, followed by necessary changes that would keep the rest of the story intact.

Tender Is the Night was the last novel Fitzgerald would see published in his lifetime. By the time the book was published, a combination of alcoholism and unmanageable debts had overwhelmed him. Not only was he desperate for income, he had also clearly lost much of his analytic abilities. Fitzgerald's hope that a new version of the book would breathe new commercial life into it blinded him to the aesthetic issues that such a revision would affect. As Matthew J. Bruccoli writes in the Introduction to his Reader's Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night, Ernest Hemingway, in a letter to Cowley years after Fitzgerald's death, wrote "I know you [revised the book] for Scott and it was what he wanted.… But I think if he had been completely sane I could have argued him out of it."

Tender Is the Night opens from the point of view of the virginal Rosemary Hoyt, the star of the recent Hollywood movie Daddy's Girl. Vacationing in France with her mother, Rosemary is immediately attracted to Dick Diver and his wife, Nicole.

"He looked at her and for a moment she lived in the bright blue worlds of his eyes, eagerly and confidently," Fitzgerald writes in the closing paragraph of the book's second chapter as Dick and Rosemary are standing together on the beach.

Far from being a 'mistake,' the structure of Tender Is the Night works well to deliver the evolution of Rosemary's views of Dick, and without that structure, much of what Hemingway called the 'magic' of the book would have been lost completely."

"Far from being a "mistake," the structure of Tender Is the Night works well to deliver the evolution of Rosemary's views of Dick, and without that structure, much of what Hemingway called the "magic" of the book would have been lost completely. "It is just like takeing [sic] the wings off a butterfly and arrangeing [sic] them so he can fly straight as a bee flies and loseing [sic] all the dust that makes the colors that makes the butterfly magical in the process," Hemingway wrote in his letter to Cowley."

A bit later, Fitzgerald describes the moment Rosemary meets Nicole for the first time:

She was about twenty-four, Rosemary guessed—her face could have been described in terms of conventional prettiness, but the effect was that it had been made first on the heroic scale with strong structure and marking, as if the features and vividness of brow and coloring, everything we associate with temperament and character had been molded with a Rodinesque intention, and then chiseled away in the direction of prettiness to a point where a single slip would have irreparably diminished its force and quality.

Rosemary is clearly smitten by the couple, especially Dick. "I love him, Mother," she cries from her mother's lap. "I'm desperately in love with him—I never knew I could feel that way about anybody. And he's married and I like her too—it's just hopeless. Oh, I love him so."

In Book One, the reader is made to view Dick and his world essentially as Rosemary views them. More than simply being smitten sexually, Rosemary is also taken in by the whole of Dick Diver and his world: the lavish dinner parties and expeditions to Paris, Nicole's spending sprees, their circle of friends, and their obvious wealth. And just as a smitten young woman (or man) would not necessarily observe details that would contradict such an idealization, so too the reader may notice only in retrospect the foreshadowing of trouble that Fitzgerald sprinkles throughout Book One: the bathroom scene at the villa, the duel between Tommy Barban and Albert McKisco, and Abe North's drinking.

At the end of Book One, the Divers' world begins to unravel in Rosemary's eyes. North gets extremely drunk in Paris, and through a series of convoluted events, a black man, Jules Peterson, is discovered on Rosemary's bed shot dead. As if this is not enough, Nicole responds to these events by going into a state of hysterics in her hotel bathroom. "Rosemary, back in the salon, heard the bathroom door bang, and stood trembling: now she knew what Violet McKisco had seen in the bathroom at Villa Diana," Fitzgerald writes, suggesting that at least some of the brilliant sheen that had blinded Rosemary has now been dulled.

What Do I Read Next?

  1. The Great Gatsby, along with Tender Is the Night, is considered to be Fitzgerald's masterpiece. Published in 1925, at the height of the U.S. "Jazz Age," the book tells the tragic story of the rich and elusive Jay Gatsby and his love for Daisy Buchanan.
  2. The Crack Up, a collection of personal writings by Fitzgerald and his contemporaries, is the closest thing to an autobiography of Fitzgerald that exists. First published in 1945 and collected by Edmund Wilson shortly following Fitzgerald's death, the collection is named after a series of articles Fitzgerald had written for Esquire, offering insight into his own personal bankruptcy.
  3. F. Scott Fitzgerald: In His Own Time is a collection of miscellaneous writings by and about Fitzgerald. Edited by Fitzgerald scholars Matthew J. Bruccoli and Jackson R. Bryer, the book includes college writings and essays by Fitzgerald, as well as reviews of his works, interviews, and several obituaries that were published at his death.
  4. A Life in Letters: F. Scott Fitzgerald, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli and written with the assistance of Judith S. Baughman, collects letters written by Fitzgerald between 1896 and 1940. Published in 1994, this book includes correspondence between Fitzgerald and his editor, Maxwell Perkins, and his many literary friends, and they offer insight into his own views on writing, his alcoholism and financial problems, and his wife's mental illness.

The main criticism of the flashback structure of Book Two was that it made for a confusing plot structure. Although it is true that placing the flashback sequence of Book Two at the beginning of the novel would have made for a clearer plot chronologically, the effect would have been both to take away from the naïve and idyllic worldview created in Book One, or the "magic," as Hemingway called it, and it would also have taken away from the effect the gradual realization of what the bathroom scenes in Book One signified. With a straightforward narrative, the mysteries of those scenes would have been eliminated entirely.

Book Two covers approximately an eleven-year period, from 1917, when Dick, an up-and-coming twenty-six-year-old psychiatrist, is studying at a Zurich clinic, to about 1928 when he consummates his relationship with Rosemary in Italy and proceeds to get arrested and beaten by Italian police after a night of excessive drinking.

It is true that there are some issues of plot structure in the way that Fitzgerald has managed Book Two. Rather than simply bringing the events back to where they were left off in Book One, there is some overlap and possibly some resulting confusion in the narration. More important, though, there is the "problem" of Rosemary Hoyt. After devoting an entire section of the novel to presenting the narration through her eyes, she disappears entirely through most of Book Two, and when she eventually does reappear, she is no longer the young, idealistic virgin Dick once knew.

Fitzgerald was on the receiving end of criticism on both of these accounts when Tender Is the Night was first published. But again, Fitzgerald's choice to present Book Two in flashback form, and to remove Rosemary from most of this section, makes perfect sense in light of Rosemary's new-found concerns at the end of Book One. With the drinking and the murder and the hysterics she has just been made privy to, Rosemary must be wondering whom she has gotten involved with. By using Book Two to provide the history behind those events, Fitzgerald effectively gives Rosemary, and the reader, the answer.

And Rosemary's "response" to that answer? She disappears from the Divers' circle, makes new movies, and, it is quite apparent, has affairs with other men. In short, she continues the process of growing up, but away from Dick. And when Dick returns from America and visits her in Rome, it is clear that she is no longer smitten by his worldliness and charm. She goes through the motions of consummating their relationship, just as Dick does, but the spark is no longer there for either of them.

More particularly for Rosemary, by the time the Divers' history has been recounted in Book Two, she has learned that the appearances of Book One were somewhat illusory and that the violence and hysterics that came to light were as much a part of Dick's life as were the attributes that she fell for in the first place. The effect of this realization, however, can only be made manifest with the structure that Fitzgerald has chosen. If Nicole's case history had preceded Rosemary's introduction to the Divers, neither she, nor the reader, would have been nearly as smitten. The glamour of their lifestyle would clearly have been tarnished, and the effects of any new insights into the Divers, if there were any new insights at all, would be minimal.

To conclude Rosemary's relationship with Dick, Fitzgerald brings her back to the Divers' villa briefly in Book Three. After Dick's embarrassing flop with the water ski trick, Rosemary joins Dick and his family on the beach and engages in a telling moment of dialogue that essentially mirrors the structure of the book:

'The first drink I ever had was with you,' Rosemary said, and with a spurt of enthusiasm she added, 'Oh, I'm so glad to see you and know you're all right. I was worried—' Her sentence broke as she changed direction 'that maybe you wouldn't be.'

'Did you hear I'd gone into a process of deterioration?'

'Oh, no. I simply—just heard you'd changed. And I'm glad to see with my own eyes it isn't true.'

'It is true,' Dick answered, sitting down with them. 'The change came a long way back—but at first it didn't show. The manner remains intact for some time after the morale cracks.'

Just as Rosemary has gone from having her "first drink" with Dick in Book One through the knowledge of his past in Book Two, so has the reader. And so has the reader watched as Dick pathetically tries to remain "intact" in Book Three, despite the "crack" that events from years ago have caused. Without the structure that Fitzgerald provided Tender Is the Night, the reader would have learned the facts of Dick's demise as given forth in the novel's plot but would not have had the experience of coming to terms with that demise. Having the ability to tell a great story and being able to tell a great story while also finding the right structure for that story is what separates merely good writers from great ones. Tender Is the Night shows why F. Scott Fitzgerald is considered one of the twentieth-century's great writers.

Source: Mark White, Critical Essay on Tender Is the Night, in Novels for Students, Gale, 2004.

John F. Callahan

In the following excerpt, Callahan discusses the "pursuit of happiness" in Fitzgerald's novel.

"France was a land, England was a people, but America, having about it still that quality of the idea, was harder to utter." In this passage from "The Swimmers," a 1929 story later distilled into his Notebooks, Fitzgerald evokes the anguished intense patriotism he finds in American faces from Abraham Lincoln's to those of the "country boys dying in the Argonne for a phrase that was empty before their bodies withered" (CU 197). For Fitzgerald that American "quality of the idea" finds most worthy expression in the impulse to offer the best of yourself on behalf of someone or something greater than yourself. Directed toward the world, a "willingness of the heart" intensifies the individual's feelings and experience. In Tender Is the Night (TITN) as in Gatsby, the dream of love and accomplishment is distorted by the values of property and possession. Like Gatsby, Dick Diver has large ambitions: "… to be a good psychologist—maybe to be the greatest one that ever lived." Dick's colleague, the stolid Swiss, Franz Gregorovius, stops short hearing his friend's pronouncement, as did the aspiring American man of letters, Edmund Wilson, when the undergraduate Fitzgerald declared: "I want to be one of the greatest writers who have ever lived, don't you?" Like Fitzgerald, Diver mingles love with ambition, though passively, almost as an afterthought: "He wanted to be loved too, if he could fit it in."

Reminiscent of Gatsby, Diver's dream resides initially in a masculine world in which one man's ambition and achievement are measured against another's. But, as with Gatsby, experience changes the values implicit in Diver's equation. Stirred by professional curiosity, he meets Nicole Warren. Because of her youth and beauty, the patient becomes in Diver's eyes primarily a woman, though a woman imagined as "a scarcely saved waif of disaster bringing him the essence of a continent." To the inexperienced Diver—"only hot-cheeked girls in hot secret rooms"—Nicole is a figure for the romantic possibility of an America that, like the "fresh green breast of the new world" whose "vanished trees … had made way for Gatsby's house" (TGG 137) is, though violated and compromised, suggestive of innocence, vitality, and possibility, and above all, still worthy of love.

So Dick Diver gambles his "pursuit of happiness" on marriage to Nicole. But his desire to be loved—"I want to be extravagantly admired again," Fitzgerald said as he was writing Tender—seduces him away from his scholarly writing as a psychiatrist. Once diverted from his work, he does not find happiness as curator of the leisure-class expatriate American world he and Nicole create on the Riviera, or as psychiatrist in charge of the clinic bought with Warren money, or as Nicole's husband, or, finally, "wolf-like under his sheep's clothing" a pursuer of women more in mind than in actuality. For Diver, like Gatsby, the pursuit of happiness becomes personally hollow in love, and professionally so in his work. Again, perhaps like Gatsby, only more so, Diver is more responsible than he knows for the dissolution of his dream of love and work.

For her part, Nicole, like Daisy, only more poignantly, veers between two selves. Cured, she embraces her heritage as her robber baron grandfather Warren's daughter; her white crook's eyes signify a proprietary attitude toward the world. More vividly and knowingly than before, she becomes the goddess of monopoly and dynasty described early in the novel. "For her sake trains began their run at Chicago and traversed the round belly of the continent to California." Nicole, "as the whole system swayed and thundered onward," is, in Europe, remote product and beneficiary of her family's multinational corporate interests. Like Daisy, Nicole "has too much money"; like Gatsby, Dick Diver "can't beat that."

"Fitzgerald created his deepest, most realized novel out of his own predicament. His dissipation and need to write short stories for the Saturday Evening Post to sustain his and Zelda's standard of living seduced him away from his craft and to some extent his dream of love."

Yet in Tender is the Night, the matter is not so simple. Marrying Nicole, Dick takes on a task demanding a heroic and perhaps a too stringent discipline and self-denial. After the most violent and threatening of Nicole's schizophrenic episodes, he realizes that "somehow [he] and Nicole had become one and equal, not opposite and complementary; she was Dick too, the drought in the marrow of his bones." Her personality reinforces rather than compensates for what is missing in him. Even more fatal for Diver's balance between husband and psychiatrist, "he could not watch her disintegrations without participating in them." Underneath the historical overtones of the American dream gone terribly, incestuously, wrong, Fitzgerald explores the strained and, finally, chilling intimacy of a marriage turned inward against the autonomy and independence of each person. With slow excruciating inevitability, Diver's "willingness of the heart," so catalytic to his imagination, charm, and discipline, deserts him.

She went up to him and, putting her arm around his shoulder and touching their heads together, said:

"Don't be sad."

He looked at her coldly.

"Don't touch me!" he said.

Diver has come so far from his former love for Nicole, "a wild submergence of soul, a dipping of all colors into an obscuring dye," that he now recoils from her touch. The Divers are no longer man and woman to each other. In truth, the conditions and pathology sustaining the marriage are played out. Nicole is rid of her incestuous dependence on Dick, and Dick seeks to recover the independence he sacrificed as Nicole's husband, doctor, and, above all, protector.

Discipline, spirit, and imagination attenuated if not broken, Diver returns to America a stranger. With Nicole now acting as Fitzgerald's chronicler, the last news of Diver tells of the "big stack of papers on his desk that are known to be an important treatise on some medical subject, almost in process of completion." So much for his craft; as for the dream of love, he becomes "entangled with a girl who worked in a grocery store." Homeless in spirit, Diver drifts from one lovely, lonely Finger Lakes town to another, and whatever dreams he has, he dreams in oblivion without his former promise and intensity of feeling and action.

Fitzgerald created his deepest, most realized novel out of his own predicament. His dissipation and need to write short stories for the Saturday Evening Post to sustain his and Zelda's standard of living seduced him away from his craft and to some extent his dream of love. Still, Fitzgerald bled out Tender Is the Night at La Paix—"La Paix (My God!)"—in Rodgers Forge outside Baltimore. He brought his "big stack of papers" to completion. But when reviews were mixed and sales modest, also perhaps because, exhausted, he had no new novel taking shape in his mind, only the early medieval tale of Phillippe or The Count of Darkness, with its curiously anachronistic tilt toward Ernest Hemingway's modern code of courage, Fitzgerald sank deeper into drink and depression. Finally, as Scott Donaldson observes, Asheville, Tyron, and other North Carolina towns became suspiciously like the small towns of Diver's self-imposed exile at the end of Tender Is the Night.

Source: John F. Callahan, "F. Scott Fitzgerald's Evolving American Dream: The Pursuit of Happiness in Gatsby, Tender Is the Night, and The Last Tycoon," in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 42, No. 3, Fall 1996, pp. 374–86.

William F. Hall

In the following article, Hall discusses how the use of dialogue in Fitzgerald's novel provides the essential themes of the novel.

Fitzgerald's handling of dialogue in Tender is the Night has not so far received sufficient critical attention. In this article I intend to examine three quotations to demonstrate that it is, in fact, in the dialogue that the essential theme of the novel is most clearly revealed.

In the early part of the novel we witness the Divers' relationship through the innocent eyes of Rosemary, who "knew the Divers loved each other because it had been her primary assumption." The Divers have a party to which Dick invites Rosemary and her mother. There has been no indication before this point that Dick is interested in Rosemary, though she already loves him, and, to Rosemary, Nicole seems a cool self-possessed woman of the world. At the party Dick makes the following apparently empty remarks to Rosemary and her mother.

"What a beautiful garden," Mrs. Speers exclaimed.

"Nicole's garden," said Dick. "She won't let it alone. She nags it all the time, worries about its diseases. Any day now I expect to have her come down with Powdery Mildew or Fly Speck or Late Blight."

He pointed his forefinger decisively at Rosemary, saying with a lightness seeming to conceal a paternal interest, "I'm going to save your reason—I'm going to give you a hat to wear on the beach."

He turned them from the garden to the terrace, where he poured a cocktail…

Here, without any pursuit of the Freudian convolutions of the forefinger and the hat, Dick's unconscious preoccupations lie clear under the light, flippant, almost meaningless remarks. He stresses Nicole's ownership of the garden, revealing his own touchiness about the fact that they live on her money. His preoccupation with Nicole's disease is equally apparent and combined with his interest in Rosemary (seeming to conceal a paternal interest) expresses almost a wish that Nicole might become totally sick. Then his sudden leap to "I'm going to save your reason" (just as he consciously set out,, at the beginning of his relationship with Nicole, to save hers) reveals, as does the reference to paternal affection, that he is already thinking of Rosemary as he did of Nicole at the beginning of the novel. For, as I shall point out in more detail later, an integral part of the theme is that Dick's affair with Rosemary repeats for him every stage of his original feeling for Nicole.

The second quotation is taken from the final section of the book. Consciously, and this part of the novel is seen from Nicole's viewpoint, Nicole still respects Dick. She still regards herself as dependent on him, just as he still consciously maintains that he loves her and consciously ignores the possibility of an affair between her and Tommy Barban. But their true unconscious relationship, unrealised by either of them at this juncture, is clearly revealed to the reader in the exchange that takes place between them the morning after Dick has made a fool of himself on Golding's yacht. Nicole sits between Dick and Tommy, making a sketch of Tommy's head.

"Hands never idle—distaff flying," Dick said lightly.

How could he talk so trivially with the blood still drained down from his cheeks so that the auburn lather of beard showed red as his eyes? She turned to Tommy saying:

"I can always do something. I used to have a nice active little Polynesian ape and juggle him around for hours till people began to make the most dismal rough jokes—"

She kept her eyes resolutely away from Dick. Presently he excused himself and went inside.

Here Dick's suspicions are apparent to the reader in his opening remark, which ironically stresses their relationship as man and wife. But he speaks lightly, unaware of his own motive for saying it. And Nicole does not understand the unconscious barb any more than he does. To her he is talking trivially. Her own hidden contempt for Dick is even more obvious (though significantly not to either her or Dick or, we assume, Tommy) in her reference to the Polynesian ape after she has just noticed the red growth of beard on Dick's face and the redness of his eyes. Moreover what is further revealed by her remarks here—"I used to have a nice … ape and juggle him around"—is that at this point she is unconsciously viewing Dick as her sister has viewed him from the beginning; as bought with the Warren money, to serve the Warren purposes. She does not, as the action continues, persist in this view, but it brushes her mind, recorded only in the dialogue.

"… it is clear that Fitzgerald reveals in his dialogue both what his characters consciously know and communicate to each other, and what lies buried beneath the surface of their own and others' conciousness where the truth about themselves and their relationships is to be found."

The third example occurs towards the end of the novel. At this point Nicole feels herself "so delicately balanced … between an old foothold that had always guaranteed her security, and the imminence of a leap from which she must alight changed in the very chemistry of blood and muscle, that she did not dare bring the matter into the true forefront of consciousness." Dick feels himself to have "gone into a process of deterioration." Rosemary, whom neither have seen for some time, comes to visit them at Antibes.

Just before the passage to be quoted here Rosemary has been surprised at Dick's bitterness about Mary North. She had "thought of him as all-forgiving, all-comprehending." Then the following scene takes place:

…She [Nicole] guessed that Dick … would grow charming … make Rosemary respond to him. Sure enough, in a moment … he had said:

"Mary's all right—…But it's hard to go on liking people who don't like you."

Rosemary, falling into line, swayed toward Dick and crooned:

"Oh, you're so nice. I can't imagine anybody not forgiving you anything, no matter what you did to them."

Rosemary then goes on to ask what they have thought of her latest pictures. Nicole says nothing but Dick goes on:

"… Let's suppose that Nicole says to you that Lanier is ill. What do you do in life? What does anyone do? They act—… the face shows sorrow, the voice shows shock, the words show sympathy.…"

"But in the theatre, no … all the best comediénnes have built up their reputations by burlesquing the correct emotional responses—fear and love and sympathy …"

"The danger to an actress is in responding. Again let's suppose that somebody told you, 'Your lover is dead.' In life you'd probably go to pieces. But on the stage you're trying to entertain—the audience can do the 'responding' for themselves. First the actress has lines to follow, then she has to get the audience's attention back on herself.… So she must do something unexpected. If the audience thinks the character is hard she goes soft on them—if they think she's soft she goes hard. You go all out of character—you understand?" …

"You do the unexpected thing until you've manouevred the audience back from the objective fact to yourself. Then you slide into character again."

This is clearly no answer at all to Rosemary's question about her pictures; yet everything Dick says is intensely relevant to his relationship with Rosemary, and with Nicole. That something of crucial importance has clearly been communicated to the two women, though not at the conscious level, is clear from their actions following the conversation. Rosemary turns to the Divers' daughter, Topsy, and asks her "Would you like to be an actress when you grow up?" indicating that a part of herself has understood that Dick has been discussing his own relationship with her and that the relationship has been, at a certain level, that of father and daughter. Nicole, who has, we are told, consciously understood nothing immediately remarks, "in her grandfather's voice," "it's absolutely out to put such ideas in the heads of other people's children." She then leaves; and in the scene immediately following she has "a sense of being cured and in a new way. Her ego blooming like a great rich."

Dick begins by making an unconscious comment on Rosemary's reaction to the appeal of his "It's hard to go on liking people who don't like you." It is, as it were, dawning on him that she is burlesquing. She has "gone soft" to get the audience's (Dick's) attention "back on herself." He is acknowledging the truth about her. She is an actress in life. She does not "respond." Her audience does so. But this truth about Rosemary is a truth also about himself. In Paris Rosemary had "said her most sincere thing to him: 'Oh we're such actors—you and I.'" He had, he is suggesting, in his bitterness about Mary North, been doing the "unexpected thing," to get Rosemary's attention back on himself. He had done the unexpected in being bitter and unpleasant and is now "sliding into character again": the character of the charming, protective, essentially paternal figure. The sense that this is only a role and not his true nature is, I think, the main significance of this passage for Dick himself. And his apparently off-hand examples, "Let's suppose Nicole says to you that Lanier is ill," "Suppose that somebody told you, 'Your lover is dead'" indicate that at least a hint about the real truth of his own nature and of his relationship with Nicole is already afloat in his mind. This is a truth Nicole has begun to recognise a little earlier when in response to his wish to show his skill on the aquaplane "she indulged him as she might have indulged Lanier."

The passage reveals a dim awareness, then, on Dick's part, that no real relationship has ever existed between himself and Rosemary and that none can exist—because each of them is incapable of "responding." Unconsciously he also senses that the role he has maintained with Nicole is now slipping from him, that he is the child, the dependent and that she is sliding back "into character again." For Nicole the return to "character" is to be a return, as she tells Tommy Barban, to her "true self."

If my interpretation of these three examples is valid, it is clear that Fitzgerald reveals in his dialogue both what his characters consciously know and communicate to each other, and what lies buried beneath the surface of their own and others' conciousness where the truth about themselves and their relationships is to be found. And this buried knowledge is revealed only in the dialogue. Fitzgerald, as author, makes no explicit comment upon it and neither do any of the characters. "Here [in the world of the novel] there is no light" as the quotation from Keats on the title-page suggests there will not be.

Further this interpretation of the dialogue suggests that Dick Diver's tragedy is internal and not caused by the corrupting influence of Nicole's wealth. This is assuredly a contributing factor, since it affords Dick, as no other condition could, the opportunity to use to the full what is in fact his only talent (despite his own and others' misapprehensions about his brilliance); that is, his charm and great social ability. It is his final realization of the fact that this is all he in fact has, that destroys him. For in realising this, he realises also that despite his varied relationships, his apparent adult control of them, and his ability to arouse "a fascinating and uncritical love in others for himself," he is unable to love. He is capable not of responding, or of acting, but only of burlesquing.

Nicole's return to "her original self" results from a similar realisation of the hidden truth about herself. She understands that her dependence on Dick has been in fact her disease: a false on a false reality.

The true nature of their relationship with each other is forced upon them both by Dick's parallel relationship with Rosemary. The discussion of the 1st example on pages 2 and 3 above suggests that with both women, Dick plays the role of father. And it is clear that both Nicole and Rosemary attribute this role to him. Nicole, who was Rosemary's age when she first met Dick, leans on him for support as she might on an 'ideal' father until her return to health, when she abandons "her dry suckling at his lean chest." Her view of him as father is so complete that in her mad spells she sees him as the 'evil' father who seduced her.

And that this is Rosemary's view of him is made equally clear. He is to her "the beautiful cold image she had created," the idealized image of her dead father. Dick's refusal to take Rosemary when she offers herself in Paris confirms this image in her mind. When later Dick does make physical demands the result is to destroy whatever potential she may have had for real love. Her experience with him, in other words, parallels subtly and psychologically the brutal physical disillusion of Nicole as a child with her actual father.

The relationships are complicated by the fact that Dick, like the two women, has assumed that the thin layer of his "attentive seriousness" has concealed a deep fund of adult love and power. Whereas in fact, as the discussion of the third example indicates, he has been an actor burlesquing "the correct emotional responses." Incapable of loving, he has been beneath his role, a child seeking parental love—as he is in his final conversation with Mary North when "His eyes, for a moment clear as a child's, asked her sympathy." His "lesion of vitality," then, is rooted, as are Nicole's and Rosemary's, in a past family relationship; and the 'adult' relationships of all three are conditioned by this.

If this interpretation is accepted, it is clear Tender is the Night is not a fumbling attempt to reproduce again what Alfred Kazin describes as Fitzgerald's only theme, "the fitful glaring world of Jay Gatsby's dream and of Jay Gatsby's failure." The novel has its weaknesses, but these result, at least partly, from Fitzgerald's attempt to express a new theme. He is here concerned, as not before, with the hidden roots of adult relationships; and with the waste that results from the characters' misunderstanding of themselves and of each other. Throughout the novel this misunderstanding is the result of their mistaking persona for true self, even though in their communication with each other the preoccupations, motives, and desires of that true self are constantly revealed to the attentive reader.

Source: William F. Hall, "Dialogue and Theme in Tender Is the Night," in Modern Language Notes, Vol. 76, No. 7, November 1961, pp. 616–22.

Robert Stanton

In the following article, Stanton discusses the "major artistic devices" used in Fitzgerald's novel.

Francis Scott Fitzgerald has come a long way from the limbo into which some of his obituaries tried to thrust him in 1941; his return has been marked and encouraged by several important editions of his stories, novels, and articles, an outstanding biography, and a gradually increasing supply of critical articles. Fortunately, although the interest in his writing still stems largely from the excitement of the 1920's and the glamour and pathos of the author's life, his critics have become increasingly willing to view him—as they must, if his reputation is not to decline again—as an artist and craftsman.

The purpose of this article is to examine one of the major artistic devices used in Tender Is the Night. It will show that the novel contains a large number of "incest-motifs," which, properly understood, take on symbolic value and contribute to the thematic unity of the novel. The term "incest-motifs" may seem ill-chosen at first, since most of these passages allude, not to consanguineous lovers, but to a mature man's love for an immature girl. I have used the term chiefly because the first of these passages concerns Devereux Warren's incestuous relation with his fifteen-year-old daughter Nicole, so that whenever Fitzgerald later associates a mature man with an immature girl, the reader's reaction is strongly conditioned by this earlier event. Devereux's act is the most obvious, and the only literal, example of incest in the novel. It is of basic importance to the plot, since it causes Nicole's schizophrenia and thus necessitates her treatment in Dr. Dohmler's clinic, where she meets Dick Diver. Nicole's love for Dick is in part a "transference" caused by her mental disorder; the character of their marriage is dictated largely by the requirements of her condition.

In spite of the importance of Devereux' act, the use of incest as motif is more evident in the fact that Dick, Nicole's husband and psychiatrist, falls in love with a young actress whose most famous film is entitled Daddy's Girl. As this coincidence suggests, Fitzgerald deliberately gives an incestuous overtone to the relationship between Dick Diver and Rosemary Hoyt. Like Rosemary's father, Dick is of Irish descent and has been an American army doctor, a captain. At his dinner-party on the Riviera, he speaks to Rosemary "with a lightness seeming to conceal a paternal interest." He calls her "a lovely child" just before kissing her for the first time, and in the Paris hotel he says, again with a "paternal attitude," "When you smile … I always think I'll see a gap where you've lost some baby teeth." Dick is thirty-four, twice Rosemary's age, and to emphasize this, Fitzgerald continually stresses Rosemary's immaturity. When she first appears in 1925, her cheeks suggest "the thrilling flush of children after their cold baths in the evening"; "her body hovered delicately on the last edge of childhood—she was almost eighteen, nearly complete, but the dew was still on her." She and her mother are like "prize-winning school-children." Even Nicole pointedly refers to Rosemary as a child.

By the time of Abe North's departure, Dick admittedly loves Rosemary; now, "he wanted to … remove the whole affair from the nursery footing upon which Rosemary persistently established it"; but he realizes that Rosemary "had her hand on the lever more authoritatively than he." Helpless as is, he remains conscious—even over-conscious—of the incongruity of the situation; he tells Rosemary, "When a child can disturb a middle-aged gent—things get difficult." Finally he tells Nicole that Rosemary is "an infant … there's a persistent aroma of the nursery."

After Rosemary leaves the Riviera, Dick begins to exaggerate the immaturity of other women as well. He is uneasy when Nicole suggests that he dance with a teen-age girl at St. Moritz, and protests, "I don't like ickle durls. They smell of castile soap and peppermint. When I dance with them, I feel as if I'm pushing a baby carriage." He looks at a pretty woman, and thinks, "Strange children should smile at each other and say, 'Let's play.'" Gradually an obscure sense of guilt appears. When Nicole accuses him, falsely and irrationally, of seducing a patient's daughter—"a child," she says, "not more than fifteen"—he feels guilty. When he is being taken to court after the taxi-driver fight, a crowd boos him, mistaking him for a man who has raped and slain a five-year-old child; later that day Dick cries, "I want to make a speech.… I want to explain to these people how I raped a five-year-old girl. Maybe I did—"

As his decline continues, Dick's attitude toward his own children, Topsy and Lanier, begins to change. In Rome, he decides that Rosemary "was young and magnetic, but so was Topsy." When Nicole realizes that his aquaplaning at the Riviera is inspired by Rosemary's "exciting youth," she remembers that "she had seen him draw the same inspiration from the new bodies of his children …" Earlier, Dick has exclaimed, "What do I care whether Topsy 'adores' me or not? I'm not bringing her up to be my wife," apparently assuming that the love of a child does not differ essentially from the love of an adult; he jokes with Lanier about "a new law in France that you can divorce a child." Finally, late in the novel Nicole notices his "almost unnatural interest in the children."

"The term 'incest-motifs' may seem ill-chosen at first, since most of these passages allude, not to consanguineous lovers, but to a mature man's love for an immature girl."

The presence of these incest-motifs may be explained in several ways. First, they may have been suggested, if only slightly and indirectly, by Fitzgerald's own ambivalent attitudes toward his mother and his daughter. He vacillated between being ashamed of his mother and devoted to her, one of the early titles for Tender Is the Night was The Boy Who Killed His Mother. According to his biographer, with his daughter Scottie, Fitzgerald was alternately "the severe father, the difficult alcoholic, and the man who loved his child intensely." But opposing this explanation is the fact that incest is not mentioned in his other works, and only "Babylon Revisited" and "The Baby Party" concern the love of father for daughter.

In any case, the incest-motifs may be fully accounted for by Tender Is the Night itself. Most of them grow logically out of Dick's relationship to Nicole. When Nicole first begins writing to Dick, she still pathologically mistrusts all men; her first letter to him speaks of his "attitude base and criminal and not even faintly what I had been taught to associate with the rôle of gentleman." Gradually Dick begins to take the place once occupied by her father, as a center of trust and security. As a psychiatrist, Dick realizes the value of this situation; he also realizes that Nicole must eventually build up her own world. After her psychotic attack at the Agiri fair, for example, he says, "You can help yourself most," and refuses to accept the father-role into which she tries to force him. But this sort of refusal costs him a difficult and not always successful effort of will. First, loving Nicole, "he could not watch her disintegrations without participating in them." Second, he is by nature a "spoiled priest," the father for all of his friends; he creates the moral universe in which they live. His nature and his love oppose his profession. It is therefore plausible, once his character begins to crumble, that he compensates for his long self-denial by falling in love with a girl literally young enough to be his daughter; that after the crowd has booed him for raping a five-year-old girl, he makes a mock-confession; and that when Nicole accuses him of seducing a patient's fifteen-year-old daughter, "He had a sense of guilt, as in one of those nightmares where we are accused of a crime which we recognize as something undeniably experienced, but which upon waking we realize we have not committed."

Ironically, although Dick's fascination with immaturity gives him an opportunity to be both lover and father, it also reveals his own fundamental immaturity. Like Nicole, who responds to Tommy Barban because she sees her own hardness and unscrupulousness reflected in his character, and like Rosemary, who responds to Dick at first because of his "self-control and … self-discipline, her own virtues," Dick is attracted to Rosemary's immaturity partly because of a corresponding quality within himself. Behind his facade of self-discipline, this central immaturity appears in the obsessive phrase, "Do you mind if I pull down the curtain?" Rosemary calls him "Youngster," "the youngest person in the world," and while he waits for Rosemary outside her studio, he circles the block "with the fatuousness of one of Tarkington's adolescents." When Abe North talks to Nicole in the railroad station, Fitszgerald says, "Often a man can play the helpless child in front of a woman, but he can almost never bring it off when he feels most like a helpless child" similarly, when Dick talks to Mary Minghetti just before leaving the Riviera, "his eyes, for the moment clear as a child's, asked her sympathy …"

The significance of the incest-motifs is not limited to Dick's personal disaster. After all, they do not all issue from him. It is not of Dick's doing that a patient accuses him of seducing her fifteen-year-old daughter or that a crowd boos him for raping a five-year-old girl. And except for Devereux Warren's act, the most conspicuous incest-motif in the novel is the motion picture for which Rosemary is famous, Daddy's Girl. Everyone, we are told, has seen it; and lest we miss the point of the title, we are given Dick's reaction to the final scene of the picture, "a lovely shot of Rosemary and her parent united at the last in a father complex so apparent that Dick winced for all psychologists at the vicious sentimentality." As the universal popularity of Daddy's Girl suggests, the incest-motifs symbolize a world-wide situation. In 1934, C. Hartley Grattan wrote of the relation between Nicole and her father, "Fitzgerald has tried to use this situation, this extreme (according to our tabus) example of decadence, to symbolize the rottenness of the society of which Nicole is a part." But the meaning of the repeated motif is both broader and more precise than this.

During the 1920's, the relationship between the prewar and postwar generations was curiously reversed. In Mark Sullivan's words,

The Twenties, reversing age-old custom, Biblical precept and familiar adage, was a period in which, in many respects, youth was the model, age the imitator. On the dance-floor, in the beauty parlor, on the golf course; in clothes, manners, and many points of view, elders strove earnestly to look and act like their children, in many cases their grand children.

And Frederick Lewis Allen notes that "the women of this decade worshipped not merely youth, but unripened youth.…" That Fitzgerald agreed with this interpretation of the period is evident from a late essay in which he described the Jazz Age as "a children's party taken over by the elders.…By 1923 [the] elders, tired of watching the carnival with ill-concealed envy, had discovered that young liquor will take the place of young blood, and with a whoop the orgy began."

Here, on a world-scale, is Dick Diver's fascination with immaturity; and since the younger generation is the child of the elder, here is a situation to which the incest-motifs are relevant. Dick Diver's generation is older than Rosemary's, and he is the product of an older generation still, his minister-father's, with its stress upon "'good instincts,' honor, courtesy, and courage." Rosemary is the product of Hollywood, with its emphasis upon the future, and we are told that in Daddy's Girl she embodies "all the immaturity of the race." In embracing Rosemary, therefore, Dick Diver is a symbol of America and Europe turning from a disciplined and dedicated life to a life of self-indulgence, dissipation, and moral anarchy—a symbol of the parent generation infatuated with is own offspring. Dick's collapse, appropriately, occurs in 1929.

Even aside from Dick's relationship with Rosemary, there are many hints that he is gradually shifting allegiance from the past culture of his father to an unworthy future. In the beginning, he exhibits dignity and self-discipline, unfailing courtesy, and a firm (if unexpressed) moral code; before the novel is over, he has been beaten in a brawl with taxi-drivers, has insulted his friend Mary Minghetti, and, at the very end, has been forced to leave Lockport, New York, because he "became entangled with a girl who worked in a grocery store." To clarify this change, Fitzgerald underlines it in several passages. The most memorable example is Dick's remark at his father's grave, "Goodbye my father—good-bye, all my fathers"; later, as he enters the steamship to return to Europe, he is described as hurrying from the past into the future. But this is only his formal farewell to something he has long since left behind. Most of the allusions to the shift occur four years earlier, during the episode in which Dick falls in love with Rosemary. At the battlefield near Amiens, he tells Rosemary that the "whole-souled sentimental equipment" of the past generations was all spent in World War I. Next day, he takes her to the Cardinal de Metz's palace: the threshold of the palace connects the past without (the stone facade) to the future within (blue steel and mirrors), and crossing that threshold is an experience "perverted as a breakfast of oatmeal and hashish." Just after leaving the palace, Dick admits for the first time that he loves Rosemary. Next day, his attempt to visit Rosemary at her studio is explicitly labelled "an overthrowing of his past." And on the following day, in the hotel dining room, although Dick sees in the gold-star mothers "all the maturity of an older America," and remembers his father and his "old loyalties and devotions," he turns back to Rosemary and Nicole, the "whole new world in which he believed." It is worth noticing that at both the beginning and end of this episode, Fitzgerald emphasizes Rosemary's significance by placing her beside the memory of World War I.

One reason for the broad applicability of the incest-motif is its inherent complexity: it simultaneously represents a situation and expresses Fitzgerald's judgment of it. First, it suggests how appealing youth can be (whether as person or as quality) to the adult in whom the long-opposed edges of impulse and self-restraint have begun to dull. He longs not only for youth's vitality but for its innocence, which apparently confers moral freedom. In the first flush of love, Dick and Rosemary seem to share

an extraordinary innocence, as though a series of pure accidents had driven them together, so many accidents that at last they were forced to conclude that they were for each other. They had arrived with clean hands, or so it seemed, after no traffic with the merely curious and clandestine.

Similarly, most of the rebels of the Twenties sought not merely to discard the Victorian morality but to do so without any aftermath of guilt—to recapture the amorality of youth. But the incest-motif also suggests decadence and the violation of a universal taboo—particularly since in Tender Is the Night it appears first as the cause of Nicole's insanity—and thus indicates that the unconscious innocence of youth is forever lost to the adult, and that in searching for it he may find disaster: "that madness akin to the love of an aging man for a young girl."

The purpose of this study has been to give a glimpse of Fitzgerald's artistry by examining one of the major patterns in Tender Is the Night. The incest-motifs, as we have seen, help to unify the novel on several levels, as well as to show how those levels are interrelated. First, these motifs function literally as one result of Dick's relationship to Nicole; they are symptoms of his psychological disintegration. Second, they both exemplify and symbolize Dick's loss of allegiance to the moral code of his father. Finally, by including such details as Daddy's Girl as well as Dick's experience, they symbolize a social situation existing throughout Europe and America during the Twenties. Fitzgerald's ability to employ this sort of device shows clearly that he not only felt his experience intensely, but understood it as an artist, so that he could reproduce its central patterns within the forms and symbols of his work. His experience transcends the historical Fitzgerald who felt it and the historical Twenties in which it occurred, and emerges as art.

Source: Robert Stanton, "'Daddy's Girl': Symbol and Theme in Tender Is the Night," in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2, Summer 1958, pp. 136–42.


Bruccoli, Matthew Joseph, with Judith S. Baughman, "Introduction," in Reader's Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Tender Is the Night," University of South Carolina Press, 1996, pp. 1–48.

Chamberlain, John, "Book of the Times," in "Tender Is the Night": Essays in Criticism, edited by Marvin LaHood, Indiana University Press, 1969, pp. 68–70; originally published in New York Times, April 13, 1934.

Colum, Mary M., "The Psychopathic Novel," in "Tender Is the Night": Essays in Criticism, edited by Marvin LaHood, Indiana University Press, 1969, pp. 59–62; originally published in Forum and Century 91, April 1934.

Gray, James, "Scott Fitzgerald Re-Enters, Leading Bewildered Giant," in "Tender Is the Night": Essays in Criticism, edited by Marvin LaHood, Indiana University Press, pp. 64–66; originally published in St. Paul Dispatch, April 12, 1934.

Gregory, Horace, "A Generation Riding to Romantic Death," in "Tender Is the Night": Essays in Criticism, edited by Marvin LaHood, Indiana University Press, pp. 72–74; originally published in New York Herald Tribune, April 15, 1934.

Rogers, Cameron, "Fitzgerald's Novel a Masterpiece," in "Tender Is the Night": Essays in Criticism, edited by Marvin LaHood, Indiana University Press, 1969, pp. 64–66; originally published in San Francisco Chronicle, April 15, 1934.

Further Reading

Allen, Frederick L., Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920's, HarperCollins, 2000 (rev. ed.).

First published in 1931 and reissued in 2000, Only Yesterday is, as the book's subtitle suggests, an informal account of the decade that has come to be known as the "Roaring Twenties." The book has a special focus on the rising market and its subsequent crash and gives a good account of the atmosphere of the times in which Fitzgerald was writing.

Berg, A. Scott, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, Riverhead Books, 1977.

Winner of the National Book Award, Berg's biography of Fitzgerald's editor reveals the profound influence Perkins had not only on Fitzgerald but also on Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, and many of their contemporaries.

Bruccoli, Matthew J., Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald, University of South Carolina Press, 2002 (rev. ed.).

First published in 1981, Bruccoli's biography of Fitzgerald has long been considered the definitive work on the author. In the revised edition, Bruccoli adds new material from more recently discovered manuscripts and papers.

Bruccoli, Matthew J., ed., Zelda Fitzgerald: The Collected Writings, University of Alabama Press, 1997.

Although F. Scott Fitzgerald was the more well-known writer of the family, his wife Zelda wrote a novel, Save Me the Waltz, and many stories and poems, some of which were published during her life. Bruccoli's collection brings these writings together and helps to round out Zelda's character.

Milford, Nancy, Zelda: A Biography, HarperPerennial, 2001 (rev. ed.).

Based on the author's doctoral dissertation, the book offers the most complete picture of Zelda Fitzgerald from her youth as a southern belle through her tumultuous marriage to Fitzgerald, and to her death in a sanatorium fire.

Wheelock, John Hall, Editor to Author: The Letters of Maxwell Perkins, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1987.

Taken as a whole, the letters by Fitzgerald's editor, Maxwell Perkins, show the profound love and respect Perkins had not only for his writers but for literature in general. Perkins's relationship with Fitzgerald is revealed in dozens of letters he wrote to him, or about him, over the years.